Collaborating with the director for the second continuous project after Prisoners, Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a history teacher who lives something of a mundane existence, making ends meet while sharing a somewhat dispassionate romance with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). However when watching a rented movie at home, he spots an extra in the background who is a complete doppelgänger for himself. Suddenly he finds some purpose in his life, as he fervently, yet somewhat anxiously, tracks down this miraculous look-a-like. However matters spiral into even darker, disquieting areas when he confronts the man, Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal, of course) and his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon).
To both embrace and enhance the surrealistic aspects of this narrative, Villeneuve has created a somewhat fantastical world, never quite seeming like a real place, as he’s used wondrous, almost hypnagogic elements as a means of being creative in his depiction, much in the same way that Ayoade presented The Double. In this instance you rarely see anybody on the streets, while there’s a constant yellow-tint that remains prominent throughout, as the entire piece is presented in an almost greyish, yellowy shade.
As a result, a distinctively memorable tone is formed, with an unnerving atmosphere prevalent. This is where the filmmaker comes into his element, as, particularly in the early stages, there should be little to feel uncomfortable about, as we focus in on a regular guy who just happens to see somebody who looks like him in a movie. But such is the eerie music and abstract, experimental approach to storytelling creates a disquieting ambiance which emanates off the screen, turning what could effectively be a light tale, into something that seems so sinister.
Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal is superb in the leading role(s), perfectly embodying both demeanours, as you always know, in the flash of a second, exactly which character he is portraying at any given point, all the while maintaining a vital degree of subtlety, which is no easy feat. However even his performance cannot excuse what is a quite underwhelming finale. Though undoubtedly provocative, making you think all the way home, it doesn’t answer enough questions, and boy do we have a few.